The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans, Mark Jacobson, Simon and Schuster Publishing, 368 pages, 2010. ardcover, $26.00, paperback $15.00.
A lampshade is found in the wreckage of a Katrina ravaged New Orleans house. The finder believes it is made of human skin; but, as revealed later, the finder is a grave robber and drug addict. New York magazine contributing editor Mark Jacobson receives the lampshade by US mail from a friend. Jacobson is not a detective, he is an interviewer. Very little detection occurs in this book but a lot of interviewing does. A DNA test reveals that the lampshade is made of human skin. Jacobson sets out to establish its provenance.
There is no way to confirm that the lampshade may be made of skin from of a concentration camp prisoner. There is no way to confirm that the human skin is of gypsy, Jewish, Christian, Dutch, Russian, homosexual, male or female origin. There is no evidence but plenty of conjecture.
Yet, feigning poverty, Jacobson for some reason begins to travel back and forth from NYC to NOLA and Mississippi, several times, then to Germany and Israel. Legacies of hatred are pondered. As the investigation wanes, Jacobson endows the lampshade with the name 'Ziggy'. Jewish victimization issues are mixed with human suffering issues. FEMA trailer camps become an issue; Ray Nagan, NOLA mayor during the catastrophe becomes an issue; George Bush becomes an issue. David Duke, grand wizard of the KKK who now lives in Germany becomes an issue. Some of these characters are interesting. Some of these characters are obviously padding so as to meet a publishing contract that requires 350 pages.
New Orleans' haunted cemeteries and characters include a psychic who tells Jacobson that the skin's owner is comfortable and feels safe with Jacobson. Nazi lore, Buchenwald lore, sadistic commandant lore is gathered. The history of ancient torture and modern serial killers is reviewed. Internet encyclopedias lurk in the background.
Fortunately Jacobson the journalist avoids sensationalizing the story. The Lampshade is somewhat disquieting and somewhat fascinating. Readers may find that the two American Dixie characters to be the most compelling in the story. Jacobson's Brooklyn childhood, characters found in the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and other parts of less so and leave the reader feeling that the story may be more travelogue than a Holocaust detective story.